The hospital treating terminally ill political prisoner and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo said on Monday that he is now in a "critical" condition, after a visiting group of Western doctors said it would be acceptable to move him.
The tug of war over where Liu will receive care for his late-stage liver cancer continued with a statement from the Shenyang No. 1 Medical University hospital in northeastern China saying his tumor has grown and that he has bleeding from the liver as well as kidney problems.
The statement comes amid a growing chorus of criticism aimed at the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which is preventing Liu, his wife Liu Xia, and her brother Liu Hui from leaving the country to seek medical treatment overseas.
"Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia have started to really hope since the visit of the U.S. and German doctors that his dying wish to be free might happen very soon," Liu's friend and fellow rights activist Hu Jia told RFA in an interview before the hospital's statement.
"Germany and the United States have been in high-level contact, so you could say that the whole world is watching," Hu said. "We are on the right side of the argument in terms of right and wrong, and in terms of the global consensus."
"All it takes now is for China to fling open the prison door and issue Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, and Liu Hui with a passport each," he said. "Everything would be fine if they would stop blocking the way."
But the hospital said the 61-year-old Liu may need emergency care, and that "Liu's family members have been informed of the above circumstances".
U.S. oncologist Joseph Herman from the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center and German doctor Markus Buchler of Heidelberg University had previously said moving Liu to an overseas hospital would be feasible.
The German embassy said it was deeply concerned that Chinese officials appeared to have leaked video of the consultants speaking with Liu, saying it was a breach of patient confidentiality and against the "express wishes" of German officials.
"It seems that security organs are steering the process, not medical experts," the German embassy in Beijing said in a statement on Monday. "This behavior undermines trust in the authorities dealing with Mr. Liu's case, which is vital to ensure maximum success of his medical treatment."
A source close to the Liu family told RFA that previous statements by the family supporting the government's position should be taken with a pinch of salt.
"This [previous] statement from the family accepting the opinion of Chinese doctors that Liu shouldn't travel overseas for treatment, it's hard to tell if it's real or fake," the source said.
"They are all under [the government's] control, and they don't want them making all sorts of statements to the outside world," the source said.
Another friend of the couple said Liu is being kept under prison-like conditions to prevent anyone from gaining access to him directly.
"Chinese prisons are pretty impermeable; no real information gets in or out," the friend said. "Everyone suspects that the authorities are obscuring what is really going on here."
Former top Communist Party official Bao Tong said he doubts the government's sincerity in its handling of Liu's illness.
"If they were really determined to save his life ... they could do so with a single order," Bao told RFA. "Even the big, corrupt former officials like Chen Liangyu and Chen Xitong were allowed out of prison, and allowed to live in a guesthouse with a chef to cook for them, and people could visit them."
"The same happened with [jailed former Chongqing party boss] Bo Xilai, but people who really did something good for the country and their fellow citizens go to prison, and and aren't allowed out until it's already too late," he said.
"The whole world is up in arms, is trying to intervene ... is calling for his release, and yet the authorities have done nothing," Bao said.
Amnesty International's China researcher Patrick Poon told Agence France-Presse that the government wants to avoid any embarrassments ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this year.
"Allowing Liu Xiaobo and his family to go abroad would risk giving Liu Xiaobo the opportunity to talk to media and other supporters about his views on China's human rights situation," Poon told AFP.
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Si-lam, Ng Yik-tung and Dai Weisen for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.